The five largest East Valley cities plan to open a privately-run jail in Mesa to house the region’s inmates instead of sending them to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s lockup in Phoenix.
The new jail would save money for each of the communities and reduce the time it takes to drive inmates to jail, which should mean officers can spend more time on patrol.
The sheriff’s office closed a jail in Mesa several years ago to cut costs, which upset some police agencies because police must transport those inmates to Phoenix. That takes three hours — or more if the inmate has medical issues or there’s a backup at the jail intake, Mesa Cmdr. Bill Peters said Thursday.
Cities can likely save money with a jail designed for misdemeanor offenders, he said. They now pay about $192 to the sheriff’s office for each booking, plus nearly $72 a day. Police believe the private jail would cost less but didn’t provide any estimates.
Mesa police shared the plan with the city’s Public Safety Committee Thursday, saying they’ve been researching the issue for about two years. Police have spoken with a handful of private operators and visited California cities that have outsourced their jails.
Police expect to have proposals in six months.
Arizona’s cities will see a boost in arrests — and jail costs — with the proposed immigration law that would require police to arrest those who they believe are in the country illegally, police said. Some Mesa City Council members showed frustration at the measure known as Senate Bill 1070, which Gov. Jan Brewer has until Saturday to veto, sign or let go into law if she takes no action.
Mayor Scott Smith said the state would enter uncharted territory under the law and criticized lawmakers for an unfunded mandate that forces cities to fund the measure’s enforcement through jail costs.
“The taxpayers of Mesa are going to pay one way or another,” Smith said.
The old Mesa jail near U.S. 60 and Mesa Drive couldn’t be reused, police said. A new jail would be constructed in an industrial or commercial area near U.S. 60 and Country Club. The city hasn’t chosen a specific location.
The jail would serve Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert and Scottsdale. Their combined annual inmate bill from the sheriff’s office is about $15.4 million a year. Mesa pays about $4.5 million and Scottsdale pays a little more than $3 million. Gilbert, Chandler and Tempe pay more than $2 million a year.